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What Are Plant Passports And When Will You Need Them?

Professional plant parents, don't board without one!

These days, plant passports are getting way more activity than their human counterparts!

Little to no international travel has resumed since a worldwide lockdown started more than a year ago, but what has seen a spike is the importation of plants. All over the world, plant mommas and daddies have leveled up their basic gardening skills as one way to preoccupy themselves as life indoors continues. You'll find that a niche group of pandemic-born gardeners have gone the extra mile by including rare and exotic plants (that is, species that need to be flown in from abroad) to add to their collection, and you might even be one of them. 

The most convenient way to grow your rare and exotic plant collection is still to get in touch with experienced (and certified) breeders/plant importers, but if you'd like to try your hand at doing it yourself, or perhaps you're considering starting your very own imported plant business, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the concept of a plant passport. Yes, they exist!

Image from Pexels

Plant passports are exactly what their name suggests.

Their purpose is to document the entry of foreign plant species legally brought from a different country (or sometimes even a state, region or province within the same country). Plant passports aren't only needed for adult plants; they cover any plant material that's intended for growing, such as seeds, cuttings, roots, leaves, and so on. 

Note that there are no specific plant species that require passports; as long it's a foreign plant you're exporting or importing, that country's customs and agricultural authorities will want to take a look at your plant records, including passports.

Plant passports aren't just frivolous indulgences. They do serve an incredibly important purpose, especially from the perspective of those who study infectious diseases in plants and ecosystems.

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As a responsible plantita or plantito, remember that plants grow and thrive in certain parts of the world for a reason.

They're endemic to those regions, which means that as living things, they have the natural immunity to fight against existing viruses, bacteria, and plant diseases common in the area. One specie might also have a unique relationship another, and maybe they need each to survive or to control each other's populations. Don't forget that plants and animals/insects co-exist together in the wild, too, and animals/insects might help keep a specie alive (by aiding in pollination and spreading seeds) or making sure they don't overgrow and hog valuable resources like water and soil by making them a staple in their diet.

Bringing a foreign plant in without proper and legal documentation could mean bringing in a plant virus that Philippine fauna are not equipped to fight against, or making plant-eating animals and insects very sick.

It's a delicate balance, and you want to make sure that you respect this balance rather than destroy it. 

Now you might be thinking what your teeny tiny plant from, say, Holland or Vietnam, might do to unhinge Philippine ecosystems. It's cute, it's harmless, and it certainly won't grow into forest level proportions in amount. 

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There's a perfect analogy to use for this.

If you're of the thinking that one plant might not make a difference, recall how the COVID-19 pandemic began. All it took was one infection in a single human being, and look at where the entire world is at now. 

How uncomfortable does the thought of the plant you just imported—without proper documentation and formal go signal from local authorities—causing a plant pandemic make you feel? (The right answer is super uncomfortable!). 

Plant passports also serve a second and equally important purpose: to weed out illegal plant breeders and importers/exporters. This is especially important for people looking for the rarest plants of them all; many can be protected and/or critically endangered species, and they can fetch pretty attractive fees in the black market. Plant passports help regulate the movement of all kinds of plants, making it easier for authorities to spot who could be breaking the law, and more importantly, save rare plant species by safely returning them to where they came from. 

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Obtaining a plant passport can be a tricky business because regulations can vary depending on the country of origin. The European Union, the UK, the US, and Canada all have different rules, and the same could be true for neighboring Southeast Asian countries. 

To get accurate information on how to go about this process, it's best to get in touch with the Bureau of Plant Industry.  They may even be able to provide you with a readymade list detailing "low-risk" plants that are easily imported/exported.  

Now that you have all that information down, it'll hopefully make you a more responsible and critical plant parent!

In case you were curious about which plants you own or have seen that have plant passports, below are some examples:

Begonia baladin (These flowers are almost candy-hued with how bold their colors are). 

Fishbone cactus (This cactus blooms beautiful lotus-like flowers in yellow and white if you take good care of it).

Anthurium Clarinervium (This little guy can sprout many leaves from a single mother plant; the more leaves, the more expensive). 

The coin plant, a.k.a. pilea (This becomes a highly in demand plant come Chinese New Year).

Calathea (There are many different varieties of calathea plants, some even have pink variagated leaves!). 

Monstera obliqua (This one's a rare monstera, what with its "more holes than leaf" leaves). 

Philodendron spiritus sancti (This one is probably the most expensive of all the plants in this list, given its rarity. A healthy, mature plant can rack up more than half a million pesos). 

Begonia masoniana (Its texture combined with its patterns and leaf size make it incredibly popular among plant parents that love green indoor décor).

Opening images from Pexels, Unsplash and @plantdepot_